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Keeping workers safe

COVID-19 health and safety guidelines will help your workplace clean and hygienic and minimise the risk of infection.

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Safe Work Australia guiding principles

Safe Work Australia has established 10 guiding principles to help businesses and workers maintain safe working environments through the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safe Work Australia also has a business resource kit to help workplaces operate safely and manage the risk of COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 vaccination

Employers must take a risk management approach (in consultation with workers) to determine the control measures they implement to prevent workplace transmission of disease, including COVID-19. 

SafeWork NSW considers vaccination a high order risk control measure against disease. When a COVID vaccine is generally available, persons conducting a business or undertaking may require workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 if reasonably practicable to do so. A variety of factors such as eligibility for the vaccine, personal health, medical history, type of work and alternative control measures should be considered, along with the risk of exposure.

Safe Work Australia has published COVID-19 vaccination guidance for employers, small business and workers.

COVID Safe return to the office

Businesses still have a responsibility under the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure a safe working environment, including managing COVID-19 risks.

It is important that businesses have a plan to keep the workplace safe and healthy, and to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection. Having a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place will help address this.

A positive COVID-19 detection in the workplace may cause people in your workforce to have to self-isolate

Work Health and Safety Duties

To ensure the health and safety of your workers, you should:

Consult workers

  • You must consult with your workers to understand concerns they may have about returning to the workplace and work together to ensure your workplace is COVID safe.
  • Encourage workers to raise any work health and safety concerns with their Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) or manager.

Keeping people safe

  • Businesses, workers and others must work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while at work. A risk management approach must be used to eliminate and/or minimise the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable.

Risk management

Consult with workers and health and safety representatives (HSRs) about risk management.

  • Conduct a risk assessment to manage the risk of COVID-19 entering and spreading in the workplace and implement control measures to eliminate and/or minimise these risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Consider the size and layout of your premises and the work being carried out by workers – gatherings at an office premises must comply with the  square metres rules of the public health order.
  • Assess any risks resulting from any changes to work practices, procedures or the work environment and communicate with workers and HSRs about any changes that have been put in place or updated.
  • Review and, if necessary, update your emergency plan – this may include how you will manage and respond to a potential further outbreak of COVID-19.
  • Review and update your risk assessment and control measures regularly and monitor for any new risks that may emerge or as public health advice changes.

Workplace procedures

Engineering controls

  • Review the workplace environment and where reasonably practicable support physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres between workers and others. For example:
    • adjust the layout of the workplace to keep occupied desks, tables and workstations at least 1.5 metres apart
    • install physical barriers such as plexiglass between workers and/or customers where appropriate.
  • Limit the volume of recirculated air in ventilation/air conditioning systems and increase fresh air intake and/or natural air flow where possible.
  • Make contact with your building owner and/or any businesses that share your premises to discuss return to work plans to coordinate risk management such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) requirements, lift usage and shared break areas.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing of 1.5 metres is not a legal requirement in an office environment.

Workplaces do however have a duty to comply with work health and safety legislation.

Workplaces must assess and reduce workplace risks as far as is reasonably practicable, including:

  • where possible, allowing people to keep a distance of 1.5 metres from others to reduce the risk of droplet transmission (it is recognised that it may not be possible or feasible in every workplace)
  • keeping staff as safe as possible by
    • encouraging employees to not come to a workplace when unwell and to get tested for COVID-19 when they have symptoms
    • promoting good hygiene practices such as regular handwashing
    • encouraging staff to be vaccinated when they are eligible for vaccination as a risk mitigation strategy
  • being aware of and responding to NSW Health community updates about COVID-19 case locations, travel restrictions and other advice
  • regularly reviewing and modifying risk mitigation strategies considering NSW Health advice and what is reasonable and practicable at the time.

Face masks

Wearing a face mask helps to reduce community transmission of COVID-19. 

  • Keep up-to-date with any changes such as localised outbreaks and follow advice and restrictions for your industry/workplace.
  • Ensure workers are provided with appropriate masks and know how to use and dispose of them correctly.
  • Instruct workers to carry a clean face mask with them at all times and wear it if it is mandatory to wear a mask or if they cannot maintain 1.5 metres of physical distance from others. 
  • For workers who are required to attend multiple premises such as field-based workers (i.e. Inspectors, regulatory staff), consider if alternative arrangements can be made for face-to-face interactions such as undertaking a non-field response (phone or video meeting) or outdoor interaction if reasonably practicable. 

Important: a mask is not a substitute for good hand hygiene and physical distancing. 

Hygiene and Cleaning

  • Provide handwashing facilities such as running water and soap. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser where handwashing facilities are not available.
  • Maintain good hygiene by encouraging workers to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitiser.
  • Limit contact with others.
  • Avoid sharing equipment. Where this is not possible (such as with activity-based working, hot desking, lunchrooms) ensure equipment is cleaned appropriately between users. Ensure suitable cleaning equipment is provided and readily available.
  • Make sure your workplace is regularly cleaned and disinfected. High touch surfaces such as door handles, lift controls and amenities should be cleaned more regularly – see Safe Work Australia cleaning and disinfecting guidance for further information.
  • Use posters and signage such as hand washing protocols to remind workers and others in the workplace of hygiene and cleaning requirements.

Health and wellbeing of workers

  • Support and engage with workers to consider flexible work arrangements, balancing re-establishing social connectivity and routine in the workplace, with working from other locations away from the office.
  • Consider the personal circumstances of workers such as if they are classified as a vulnerable worker.
  • Inform workers about their workplace entitlements if they have COVID-19 symptoms or they are required to self-quarantine (such as access to paid leave).
  • Consider the psychological health and safety risks and impacts that may be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic including changes to working conditions and respond to signs a worker may be concerned or anxious about returning to the workplace appropriately.
  • Provide information about mental health and other support services available.

Travelling to and from work

COVIDSafe Travel Choices can help employers and employees make the right decisions about how and when to travel for work, as restrictions begin to ease and you transition into your new normal. For many employees working from home will continue.

To travel safely it’s essential to plan your trip before deciding to make your journey for work, and to reconsider your need to travel if the transport network is busy.

Estimated capacity information is now available in the Trip Planner and Opal Travel App for all metro and train, Opal-enabled bus, ferry and light rail services, to help you plan ahead. 

Mental health at work

It’s a challenging time for businesses and employees.  Learn how to create a mentally healthy work, your rights and legal responsibilities, and the free training and resources available here.

Supporting injured workers

The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) is offering financial support, programs and advice to help get injured workers back into employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial support for employers

  • The JobCover6 program offers financial incentive to employers who provide short-term work opportunities to help injured workers who are looking to gain new employment during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • The Connect2work program offers financial support to employers who provide work placements to assist workers who are unable to recover at their pre-injury workplace or are looking to gain new work skills during the COVID-19 crisis.

Tools, programs and advice

Related apps

Speak Up Save Lives app logo

Speak Up Save Lives

Workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility. 

If you see something unsafe in your workplace, SafeWork NSW wants you to speak up and tell your boss. This app lets you report an unsafe work situation and it gives you the choice to remain anonymous. You can tag your location, include photos, and choose to be kept updated on the issue you’ve reported.


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